SW Chief Route Track Work to Begin in Kansas

Track rehabilitation will begin next week in western Kansas on the route of Amtrak’s Southwest Chief.

The work will be done on BNSF tracks between Holcomb and Deerfield and is expected to be completed by the Thanksgiving holiday.

This portion of an overall project to upgrade several miles of BNSF Railway through western Kansas is expected to be completed before Thanksgiving.

The project involves rehabbing seven switches and improving two grade crossings.

Funding is being provided by a federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant awarded to the City of Garden City in 2014.

“This project is the culmination of work by a multitude of people who recognize the importance of passenger and freight rail to our communities,” Garden City Manager Matt Allen said in a statement. “This would not have been possible without the support of our elected representatives at the state level and at the federal level.”

The Southwest Chief operates daily between Chicago and Los Angeles. The route in western Kansas, southeastern Colorado and northern New Mexico has been in danger of being downgraded by BNSF, which operates little freight traffic over it.

BNSF said its current and expected level of freight service over the route does not merit maintaining the line to passenger train speeds.

TIGER grants to be used for track work have been integral to keeping the Chief on its existing route.

The money will be used to rebuild 46.9 miles of the 158 miles of jointed rail between Pierceville, Kansas, and Las Animas, Colorado, to maintain a top speed of 79 mph.

The project will involve the laying of continuous welded rail, new switches and grade crossings improvements.

“Ever since Amtrak and BNSF first met publicly in April of 2012 with Garden City and other communities, your city led a regional partnership to rally matching funds and other support to make the capital investments to preserve and improve this route,” said Ray Lang, senior director, Amtrak Government Affairs & Corporate Communications. “This infrastructure work now underway in Kansas and next in Colorado helps achieve what all of us want: reliable, daily Amtrak Southwest Chief service that is vital public transportation connecting Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico to the 500 destinations on the Amtrak network.”

The $12.5 million TIGER grant has been combined with $9.3 million in state, local and private funds to fund the route’s infrastructure improvements.

A coalition of the Kansas cities of Garden City, Dodge City, Newton and Hutchinson along with Colorado communities along the route, BNSF, Amtrak and the Kansas Department of Transportation pledged matching funds toward the $12.5 million grant.

The four Kansas communities each agreed to provide $12,500 while KDOT put up $3 million.

Allen expressed his gratitude to those entities that contributed matching funds to the project. Other contributors included La Junta, Lamar, Trinidad, Bent County, Las Animas County, Otero County, Prowers County and Pueblo County in Colorado; the I-25 Coalition and the Colorado Rail Passenger Association.

The City of La Junta has submitted an application for a 2015 TIGER grant funds.

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